CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada. - As we enter 2016, the demand for
remotely piloted aircraft in conflict areas around the world
continues to rise, and with it, the misconceptions about this unique
capability are on the rise.
In a time of budget cuts, manning
shortages and tough decision making, achieving the maximum impact on
the battlefield using RPA capabilities is a must. Partnering RPAs
with Air Force joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) , Air Force
tactical air control party (TACP) and sister service controllers is
necessary to conduct to accomplish close-air-support (CAS) missions.
Airmen performing remotely piloted aircraft operations are dedicated to achieving the maximum impact on the battlefield have partnered with Air Force joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC), Air Force tactical air control party (TACP) and sister service controllers to conduct and accomplish close-air-support (CAS) missions. RPAs assigned to the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. and other locations around the world continue to be the number one most requested capability from combatant commanders around the world on a 24/7 basis. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Tech. Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay)
"The environment we've been operating in the last 15
years is a permissive environment where the only thing we're
worried about is the element on the ground," said Gen.
Herbert Carlisle, Air Combat Command commander.
Eye in the sky
aircrews provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
and strike capability to combatant commanders to achieve
military objectives on a constant basis, even though they
are not physically located aboard during CAS missions, like
traditional aircraft used for CAS missions such as the A-10
Despite being geographically
separated from both the aircraft and troops on the ground,
aircrews of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remain
invested in the missions they are supporting.
only difference between myself and a traditional aircrew
member is that I'm sitting in a room half the world away,"
said Senior Airmen Shantae, 432nd Wing sensor operator.
"This job is important to me because you can't put a price
tag on saving a life."
Even with the high operations
tempo, pilots, sensors, maintainers and intelligence Airmen
supporting RPA operations find themselves facing manning
shortages and resource constraints and thus are unable to
provide every friendly on the ground with RPA support.
"The demand for CAPs [combat air patrols] and RPAs has
gone up so radically, the ramp has been so high, we haven't
normalized and built a system to meet the demand," said
With RPA capability requests at an all-time
high, ISR missions continue to be the number one most
requested capability from combatant commanders around the
world on a 24/7 basis.
Dedication to the mission and
providing help as much as possible are shared feelings among
"Being able to help the guys on the
ground and bring them home is the most important, however,
while providing over watch for ground forces and
accomplishing the Air Force mission is the best part of my
job," said Shantae.
While maintaining a 24/7, 365
days a year mission has its challenges, the obstacles faced
by ground forces are just as demanding.
On the battlefield
As the Air Force sees a rise in demand for RPA capabilities
they are also seeing a steady rise in the need for JTACs and
Acting as skilled
personnel on the ground, these Airmen are trained to direct
the actions of combat aircraft engaged in CAS and other
offensive and defensive air operations from a forward
"Like the RPA career field, we are seeing
our fair share in manning shortages," said a JTAC assigned
to Air Force Special Operations Command. "It's truly amazing
what we can provide the combatant commanders as far as
capabilities when we partner together with RPAs to
accomplish a specific objective."
Carlisle, the number of daily RPA CAPs, has increased from
21 in 2008, which met more than half of the Air Force's
needs, to 65 at its peak in 2015, CAPs were reduced to 60 in
late 2015 allowing manning in the RPA community to stabilize
and meet the current demands.
different capabilities from the air and ground provides us
with the ability to develop patterns of life for targets,"
said the JTAC. "If and when the time comes to strike, we can
do so with accuracy. This is instrumental in moving to a
safer military for future conflicts. Not to mention, having
the RPAs provide over watch from the sky makes us feel safer
In addition to CAP reductions, the Air
Force strives to provide more Airmen with the training
needed in simulated environments.
In 2008, a "virtual
trainer" for JTACs students was built at Nellis Air Force
Base, Nevada. This facility allows JTAC/TACP personnel the
opportunity to work side by side with RPAs on the Nevada
Test and Training Range.
"The close proximity of the
school house to Creech and the RPAs give us the capability
to train in a life-like environment while allowing the guys
on the ground the opportunity to see the aircraft up-close,"
said the JTAC. "In addition, we get to meet the crews we
could possibly work with in the future so we aren't just a
voice over the radio...we're people too."
that the voices on the radio are people too is something the
Airmen of the RPA community can relate to as well.
"What I would tell the world is, don't call me a drone,"
said Shantae. "Drones are autonomous; they can't participate
in CAS missions, they have no heartbeat, there's no skips,
there's nothing there. It takes a human to work with humans.
My heart skips when I hear a JTAC's voice on the line who's
engaged in a TIC [troops in contact] situation. I'm not a
drone; I'm just the new age operator."
perfect synergy capable of engaging the enemy from both the
ground and the sky isn't an easy task its one Air Force
officials are dedicated to use move in the future.
"What our Remotely Piloted Aircraft professionals are doing
in today's fight and in preparing for future conflicts is
simply incredible. RPAs and their operators are in the
highest demand from our Combatant Commanders because of the
situational awareness and strike capabilities that they
enable. Despite being some of the newest weapon systems in
the Air Force inventory, RPAs fulfill critical demands in
every theater 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen
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